So, who won the referendum phoney war? There was an air of quiet satisfaction among senior Tories at their conference in Birmingham recently. “Wily” Alex Salmond had been put back in his box, I was told. Forced to drop his devious plan to turn the ballot on Scottish independence into an each way bet in a two horse race that he couldn't lose.
But three hundred miles north, members of the Yes Scotland campaign were also expressing quiet satisfaction. They claim to be more than content with a single question referendum. Nationalists think that Salmond pulled the wool over the UK government's eyes and that he really wanted a single question all along. They can't both be right.
Actually, this is one of those rare occasions in politics when both sides can claim victory. David Cameron can legitimately say that he insisted on, and got, a single straight in-or-out question and that the Electoral Commission will have a say on the wording. Alex Salmond can say that he has won on the 2014 timetable , giving16 and 17 year olds to vote and on ensuring that the referendum is legally binding. The FM will say that he always favoured a single question himself, but didn't want to be accused of disenfranchising supporters of “devolution max”. Opposition politicians will say: “Aye, right..”
Perhaps the real winners are the people of Scotland, who will not only be given the legal power to secede from the UK state - a power denied only last week to the Catalonian people by the government in Madrid - but will be allowed to give a straight answer to a straight question along the lines of:. “Do you wish Scotland to become an independent country” This is infinitely preferable to the obfuscatory nightmare formulations that were put to the people of Quebec in their 'Neverendums' of the last century.